Have you ever been in a situation where you are the new kid at school and everyone knows everyone else, but you don’t know anyone? I’ve been there lots of times, I’ve made some mistakes, and I’ve seen some pretty cool stuff happen, so I took some time to write out my thoughts for my kids who are facing a “new school” situation, their friends/ parents who are facing new school situations, and to lots of my young adult friends who are headed to far away places and will be in a place where they need to make new friends. As a father, friend, and pastor I want the best and them and you. You see the decisions you make now about friendships really matter.
There are different levels of friendships. First level friends are the individuals and groups of friends that we are the closest to and whose opinion matters the most. Second level friends have the ability to become first level friends. They are cool, but they aren’t our first choice of people to hang out with. You will still go to their house or have them over at your house, but not all the time. Third level friends are more like good acquaintances. They tend to be our friends in certain situations such as “math class and lunch” but we really don’t seek them out much besides that. These are the folks we know, get along with, and even respect, but there isn’t a strong bond there. You would wave, say hey to them in the hall at school but you probably don’t have a clue about their real life.
Making a true friend can be difficult. When you were just a child, your parents opinion was the only opinion that really mattered. Now that you are emerging into your pre-teen and teenage years, you really care about what other people your age think. Nobody wants to be rejected. You can feel intense pressure to fit in.
When I was in middle school it was cool to have jeans with holes in the knees. You could actually buy jeans with holes already in the knees! Some manufacturers obviously did not get the memo because they also sold jeans with reinforced knees that were more difficult to rip. It was like they were against fashion! Guess which kind of jeans my mom bought me?… I had to work extra hard to put holes in the knees because I wanted to fit in and be accepted.
So tearing up a pair of jeans and making your mom mad is one thing, but what if something larger is at stake. What if in the process of looking for the acceptance by others, you lose a part of yourself? What if you give up more than you gain? What if next year you don’t know those people anymore but you still carry scars from the stuff you’ve done?
You see I’ve lived through that. I’ve been the new guy at school desperate to make new friends. I’ve felt isolated like everyone was staring at me and been in social situations where I was just praying for someone to rescue me from my isolation. Just someone to talk to so I didn’t look so weird… then you hear the girl in the corner laugh and you think they are laughing at you and your isolation, your insecurities are just feeding on one another until finally someone walks over and asks you a few questions. Part of you is relieved that you are at least talking, another part of you wonders if this too isn’t part of some cruel joke. Then they say something you know you should disagree with like “let’s all go murder a bunch of helpless kittens.” And the one thing you swore you would always be against you find yourself invited into and you have a choice to make. Do you violate your conscience and join them in murdering kittens or do you risk another hour of social awkwardness?
So to be honest, people probably aren’t tempting you to murder cats. It’s more like gossip. Maybe its drug related or pressure to do sexual things to fit in. I could be looking at dirty pictures or watching movies that you know you’re not supposed to watch. Hanging out in places your parents told you not to go.
Some of you “feel” this need to be accepted so deeply that you would do stuff that you know is wrong just for a total stranger’s approval. Something that you were normally against you would now go and watch, observe, participate in just so you would not feel alone.
The irony is that even though you feel it so intensely in the moment, social isolation will pass and may even be forgotten, but you will carry the scars.
That’s how it happened for me. It wasn’t murdering kittens, it was underage drinking. I knew my grandfather was an alcoholic. But when a “friend” said let’s go get drunk. I caved under the pressure. One night they put a fifth of vodka in my hand and said drink this and I drank enough vodka in just a few minutes to kill me. If I had been a smaller person I probably would have died. As it was I displayed all the symptoms of alcohol poisoning (except for death) but wasn’t taken to a hospital. I was thrown in the back of a pickup without my shirt (it had vomit all over it) in the middle of winter. When I passed out and they couldn’t wake me up, they propped me up against a dirty nasty toilet in some guys bathroom with a space heater.
I don’t have those “friends” anymore, but I do carry the scars around from what did while I was with them. That day I realized I needed to make a change in my life, I needed better “friends.”
Have you ever felt pressure to make friends? Maybe you are a new kid a school, or maybe for whatever reason you’ve had a falling out with your old friends, or you realize that maybe your friends aren’t a good influence but you wonder how to make good friends. Over the next few days I will blog about how to make good friends.
The Bible says a lot about friendship. We are going to focus on the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is about the only book in the bible that you can just pick a verse at random, read, and walk away with a healthy sense of what the author meant. Most of the other books of the bible you need to read like a real book (from start to finish) in order to get context. Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings (mostly written by Solomon). Over the next four days we will look at four truths.
- It Matters Who You Pick To Be Your Friend.
- To Make A Friend, You Have to Be A Friend
- Not Everyone Who Claims to be Your Friend, Is Your Friend
- A True Friend Will Bring Out The Best In You
I’m looking forward to discussing this together.